On Friday President Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post on the National Security Council and Gordon Sondland from his job as Ambassador to the European Union, in both cases because they testified before the House committees that eventually impeached the president. For good measure Trump also fired Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman from his NSC job, even though his only connection to the impeachment matter is that he’s the other Vindman’s brother.
Trump’s loyalists can rightly argue that all three served at the president’s pleasure, and presidents have broad constitutional authority to fire almost any executive branch employee for almost any reason, but in these cases the reasons look bad to anyone who’s not a Trump loyalist.
Alexander Vindman won several decorations during his service in the Iraq War, including a Purple Heart, and his integrity was never questioned as he rose through the ranks to his NSC job as the go-to guy on Ukrainian affairs, where his fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian was one of several hard-to-find credentials. When he complied with a congressional subpoena and testified under oath that he was aware of efforts by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some associates to obtain help for Trump’s reelection in exchange for congressionally-authorized but withheld military aid, though, the Trump loyalists branded him a “deep state” conspirator. Vindman knew the Ukrainian language because he’d been born there and was a toddler when his father had escaped with the family to America, which Trump fans found mighty suspicious, and despite all the medals and the years of service to both Democratic and Republican administrations the fact that he’d given testimony detrimental to Trump was sufficient proof of treason.
Sondland is a self-made billionaire who had no relevant educational credentials or foreign policy or any other governmental experience when he became Ambassador to the European Union, and the only apparent reason he had the job was because he’d given a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. Even so, he was also branded a “Never Trumper” and “deep state” conspirator after he testified about his personal involvement in the effort by Giuliani and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to get help for Trump’s reelection by withholding aid to the Ukrainian government. The White House declined opportunities to have Giuliani or Perry or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or the moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House Chief of Staff or anyone else with relevant information take an oath and dispute the testimony, so we’re inclined to believe every word Sondland said.
Trump didn’t deny that the two were fired as retribution for their testimony, and instead accused them of “insubordination” for complying with congressional subpoenas and giving truthful testimony. That’s arguably within his constitutional authority, although there’s an argument that he’s confessed to a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1513, which prohibits retaliation against witnesses, victims or informants, and that in any case it looks petty and vindictive, but at this point such arcane legal and ethical arguments don’t much matter. Trump no doubt believes that taking vengeance on his enemies is in the public interest, and all but one of the Republican majority bought the argument made in the impeachment trial that gives him the right to do whatever he wants.
Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was removed from her post even before she testified, and Ambassador Bill Taylor, who was called out of retirement after a stellar career of foreign service by Pompeo to be envoy to Ukraine afterwards has also been relieved of duty following his testimony. The inspector general of the intelligence agencies who passed a “whistleblower’s” complaint to Congress to start all this mess is expected to fired any moment, and anyone else who had anything to say that Trump didn’t want to hear during the impeachment affair is by now polishing his or her resume. They’ll all have it coming, as far as Trump and his loyalists are concerned.
The case of Yevgeny Vindman is harder to explain, as he was a well-respected senior law and ethics official on the NSC and had nothing to do with anything about Ukraine, and never said a word to the press or congress against Trump. He was clearly fired solely because he was the other Vindman’s brother, and unless you believe in the ruthless Mafia tactic of going after the family that’s hard to justify.
At least they’ll fare better than they would have in Russia or North Korea or any of the other authoritarian states Trump so admires. Both Vindmans will be reassigned to other and less stressful military assignments, and Sondland is still a self-made billionaire, although a million bucks short for his support of Trump. Taylor is returned to a well-earned retirement that was so rudely interrupted when Pompeo lured him to the Trump administration, and Yovanovitch has her reputation and retirement benefits intact and could earn some compensation down the line from a book deal. As for the rest of the targets of Trump’s revenge, they’ll probably wind up with good jobs and less legal jeopardy than Trump will deal with in the coming years.
On the same day he fired the Vindmans and Sondland Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast that he didn’t agree with the Bible about forgiving one’s enemies. He also seems to reject the Good Book’s sound advice about leaving vengeance to God.
— Bud Norman